Doing the right thing by our growers, markets and industry
Author: Andrew Weidemann (Farmer Rupanyup, Victoria and Chairman Grain Producers Australia). | Date: 16 Feb 2016
Just like farming practices have changed so have the markets that we deliver our produce into. Greater emphasis is now on consumer requirements - particularly with pulses that are essentially going from the paddock straight to the plate - in countries right around the world and locally.
The 3500ha Weidemann farm is growing wheat, barley, canola, pulses and hay. It incorporates a 350 hd White Suffolk stud and currently an 11,000t on-farm storage system (Graincare accredited).
Going right back to the early days of growing field peas in the early 80’s the Weidemann family has had a high focus on dealing directly, where possible, with the end user of our product. From this, we have learnt valuable lessons over quite a long period of time which has helped us to continue to add value to our produce and gain reward for effort.
During the early 90’s, along with local farmers, we went through a training process to provide assurance to a segment of the market that was requesting quality assurance. This program, called Great Grain, was eventually superseded by Graincare which was an industry led assurance program. Like most farmers we saw little value in the early days other than recognising where we needed to improve certain management areas within our business. Buyer acceptance of the program was minimal which eventually led to very low farmer participation.
The introduction of the computer age at the same time, allowed us to keep records much easier along with reporting requirements for the markets that we have developed. Since 1994 we have relied on PAM (paddock action manager, Fairport Farm Software) as our production recording system which has also evolved to manage the reporting requirements of any quality system. PAM has a range of recording processes, from using hand held Palm recorders to now using Ipads which automatically sync with the base computer. As part of our on-farm planning process, developing work sheets for spray jobs and silo treatment records can also be developed in PAM.
In 2003 we were part of a pilot program in Victoria with five growers looking at providing quality assured barley to a new market in Japan. The basis for the trial was to ensure that the barley would meet the extensive MRL’s (maximum residue limits) that the purchasers of the malt barley required. This process required us to provide a comprehensive list of all activities used in growing the crop, which was then provided to the malster and made available to the purchaser of the malt. Advances in technology and computers have made this process unobtrusive in the business. However, it does make crop choice and chemical usage paramount in any planning discussion with our agronomic adviser. The final product in most cases carries the traceability identification on through to the barcode on the bottle.
While this would seem quite a process to most farmers, ultimately it is recognising ‘good farmer practice’ which has its rewards through better management and extra value on the grain we produce. We have established a range of markets over time that have grown, and most growers would now have had some experience with grain sales into PRF (pesticide residue free) markets. These PRF markets usually pay a small premium for quality grain or can provide storage opportunities. More recently, the markets we deliver to operate under an identity preserved process which requires full knowledge of the production process being made available at the point of sale.
The Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) Crown Lager program is an exceptional example of what can be achieved, but it is unrealistic to believe that the grain market in the short term will offer these types of premiums on a broad scale. However, the landscape is changing. As deregulation of the grain supply chain continues, the grain market responds by reshaping itself. In my opinion, the grain market shifts from being a commodity-based delivery system to a more defined quality supply chain system.
Australian grains industry today
Australian grain has a well-earned reputation for quality and reliability. Maintaining this valued reputation relies on diligence by the industry in its management practices.
A number of issues are creating a need for the industry to work together to assure and protect its reputation. These include:
- Markets becoming increasingly concerned about food safety, more stringent about maximum chemical residues levels (MRLs), and increasingly sophisticated in grain testing.
- Markets becoming more demanding and aware of standards of farming practices in relation to food safety as well as environmental and workforce management.
- Customers establishing their own audited assurance and certification programs.
- Chemical drift to other properties and MRL breaches placing increased pressure on chemical registration and use-restrictions.
- Chemical uses requiring some form of assurance.
- Identity preservation grain to meet specific market requirements.
- Profitability of the farming enterprise.
Note: See recent industry monitoring data and commentary at the end of this paper.
Careful management of agricultural chemicals, good hygiene in field as well as on-farm and post-farm gate grain storage/handling combined with clear lines of communication are important to avoid chemical uses that may unintentionally result in residues that could exceed acceptable limits.
The industry is reliant on developing new strategies to combat weeds, pests, and diseases which create problems for farming systems in the Australian environment.
While new approaches are essential, real care is needed to manage agricultural chemicals, as some off-label chemical strategies appear to be the cause of the higher number of detections of chemical residues though NRS (National Residue Survey) residue monitoring. The levy-funded NRS Grains Program was put in place by the grain industry in 1992. The NRS component of the overall grain levy funds the collection and analysis of about 6,000 samples per year. The program helps to maintain the confidence of Australian grain purchasers by providing results which indicate that the product meets market requirements and relevant food standards.
Pesticide registration and establishment of MRLs can differ markedly from country to country. Awareness of the MRLs established by our overseas trading partners is critical to successful marketing. There are many cases where for a particular Australian MRL there is a lower or no corresponding MRL in the overseas market.
Some countries do not have a pesticide registration. In almost all cases, these countries choose to adopt Codex MRLs. Australia is very active on the Codex Committee for Pesticide Residues to ensure, where practical, the Australian MRL is the same or near to the Codex MRL. With many developing countries adopting Codex MRLs these efforts help to reduce the potential impacts from differing trading standards.
Another challenge facing the industry is the increasing sophistication of food safety regulation and associated residue monitoring in overseas countries. With ever-improving laboratory analytical methods our overseas trading partners are better able to detect low levels of pesticide residues in imported products. This applies to most Asian markets, and coupled with increasing product certification requirements, means that Australian grain growers, advisers, and marketers must ensure that pesticide-use patterns do not create potential trade issues.
During 2014 the industry was faced with a potentially long term-issue, with a positive sample of Scope barley destined for the Japanese market showing a breach of the herbicide Imazapic, which is not registered for usage on this crop. Japan has now put in place a stronger testing regime across all grains which has intensified the issue.
Over the coming seasons growers have the potential to see further barley lines with the tolerance trait seen in Scope barley introduced. However, without an adherence to stewardship around the technology, we face the potential of not having these products reaching registration because of the potential market issues, as seen with the usage of off-label chemistry.
What is industry doing to address this?
Over the last five years GPA, along with key industry stakeholders right through the supply chain, has been exploring the need for good pre and post-farm gate practice to be recognised. In July 2013 the post farm gate sector adopted the Australian Grain Industry Code of Practice which included reference to the pre-farm gate or on-farm sector adopting its own code.
The on-farm sector, through industry associations and technical specialists, has been working on developing a set of grain production stewardship principles. These principles outline the basic components of good farming practice. In 2015 the pre-farm gate sector is hoping to launch these principles as a way of publicly recognising the good farming practices of Australian grain growers, and promoting this good practice to customers and stakeholders.
The aim is for these principles to be embedded in existing industry assurance programs, record-keeping packages, supplier declarations, and chemical use requirements. These common principles can give consistency and reliability to the integrity of Australian grain. It is hoped this will make a simpler, streamlined system for growers by avoiding the need to complete a plethora of assurance and other records for different purposes.
This in itself will not solve the potential issues from the usage of off-label herbicides in our industry, which can potentially cost the industry a market entry worth millions and our reputation as a safe food provider. Our supply chain ultimately
has the ability to trace MRL breaches to the source of the breach. Simple actions such as cleaning trucks after fertiliser cartage are crucial awareness steps that should be paramount. As advisers to the agricultural sector we all have a responsibility to understand the impact MRL breaches can have on the market and be aware of the potential issues uninformed advice can have.
Adoption of best practice herbicide stewardship provides benefits to many sectors of the industry, especially those sectors where investments are long-term and high risk. For example:
- Companies developing herbicides: as they will be able to see long term benefit in the maintenance of those investments in herbicide development.
- Breeding companies (with 6-10 year cycle times in developing varieties): as they will have the confidence to continue breeding for herbicide tolerant varieties to be released next decade.
- Grain marketers: as they can have confidence that the product they are selling will meet with customer satisfaction.
- Customers: as they will have confidence that products produced in Australia meet the highest levels of quality standards.
- Growers: as they will have farming systems that are sustainable, and they will be able to pass on valuable technologies to future generations of farmers with the confidence that those technologies have not been abused and devalued, which will ultimately increase their property values.
The author wishes to acknowledge contributions to this paper by the following people: Ian Reichstein and Chris Williams, NRS; Jason Lutze, APVMA; Ingrid Roth, Roth Rural; and David Moody, Intergrain.
Recent industry monitoring data and commentary from the National Residue Survey
As provided by Chris Williams (NRS Plant Programs).
Table 1: Grain monitoring results comparison.
|Year||Bulk samples||Bulk compliance (%)||Container samples||Container compliance (%)|
Bulk results are slightly better than container because:
- aggregation can dilute a residue issue
- bulk handlers have consistent application of grain protectants
- container packers will at times source grain direct off-farm.
Export grain monitoring results indicate two things:
- good agricultural practice by Australian grain producers and grain handlers
- indirectly, a good understanding of overseas market requirements by exporters.
However, ongoing vigilance is paramount to market access. NRS programs seek to identify emerging issues and facilitate industry resolution. Table 2 and Table 3 flag two issues at the forefront of industry attention.
Table 2: Halaxyfob - six year snapshot.
|Year||Grain||Sample tested||>LOR< Aust MRL||>Australian Std|
Traceback investigations indicate application of Verdict:
- later in the canola growth cycle than is indicated on the label
- on canola windrows - not in accordance with any label instruction
- to control grass in chickpea crops.
Table 3. Flutriafol - a six year snapshot.
|Year||Samples tested||>LOR< Aust MRL||>Aust MRL|
Traceback investigations indicate that:
- flutriafol detections most commonly caused by back-loading trucks with fertiliser
- results from inadequate cleaning – some samples found with fertiliser
- contamination of on-farm storage has also caused residues (includes silos and augers).
Herbicides in barley
On 7 February 2014, a grain exporter notified the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of surveillance sample results:
Formal MAFF notification to NRS via our Minister-Agriculture (Tokyo):
- notification - herbicide residues of imazapyr and imazapic - levels > Japanese MRLs
Intervix is the only registered product for use on barley in Australia:
- contains imazapyr and imazamox (not imazapic)
Australia imazapyr MRL 0.05 mg/kg – No Codex or Japan MRL
No products registered in Australia for imazapic use on barley. Queensland and New South Wales only have registration for use at pre-sowing – if used according to label no residues expected.
NRS added all five imidazolinone analytes to grain screen - no imi herbicides detected since Feb 2014
Common residues detected in 2014-15
49 residues > Aust APVMA MRL including:
- flutriafol in bran/canola/chickpea/field pea/lupin/oat/wheat (15 samples)
- haloxyfop canola/chickpea (nine samples)
- carbaryl in canola (two samples)
- bifenthrin in sorghum (two samples)
- spinosad in canola (two samples)
- thiabendazole in lentil/field pea (three samples)
Residues detected exceeding import tolerances in 2014-15
98 residues > import tolerance MRL including:
- fenitrothion in wheat/barley/oat/chickpea/canola (15 samples)
- glyphosate in barley/sorghum/canola/oat (23 samples)
- haloxyfop in chickpea (five samples)
- methoprene in wheat/sorghum (12 samples)
- piperonyl butoxide in canola/wheat/chickpea (18 samples)
- spinosad in wheat/canola/lentil (seven samples)
Market access – be aware
Australian MRLs and overseas standards can differ.
Compliance with Australian MRL DOES NOT mean compliance with trading partners.
No MRLs for certain chemical-commodity combinations.
- Out-turn tolerances on GTA website
- NRS MRL database
Other international databases
Contact detailsChris William
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